Rezoning Battle Rages on UWS

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Last night dozens of supporters and a fair number of detractors showed up at Community Board 7's meeting to express their views on the proposed retail rezoning initiative for the Upper West Side. The proposal from the City Planning Commission would limit storefront widths along certain sections of Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue, in an effort to encourage small individually-owned "mom and pop" shops and keep big banks and chain stores out.

Several small business owners came to speak in support of the measure. Bruce Stark, one of the owners of Beacon Paint on Amsterdam Avenue between W. 77th and 78th Streets, said that his family's hardware store has been in the neighborhood for 112 years and hopes that this rezoning would allow them to stay another 112 years.

"This is a very important [thing] for me, because what would stop my landlord from saying, you know, let's take that store and the one next to it and the one next to it and make one big store and triple the rent," Stark said.

Monica Blum, president of the Lincoln Square BID, came to beg the board not to approve it for fear that it may come to her district next and to defend the big box stores other were railing against.

"We think drug stores [like Duane Reade] today are the five-and-dimes of the past," Blum said, a comment that elicited booing from the crowd. She continued, stating that large, established chains are better, more stable bets for landlords to rent to, and said that the BID fears that this zoning would lead to empty retail chains. Barbara Adler, president of the Columbus Avenue BID, asked the board to amend the proposal to exclude their area, a move that the board considered but ultimately rejected.

Anne Shirazi spoke to represent the West 100th Street Block Association, and testified that she and her neighbors support the proposal because they see too many small businesses ousted in favor of larger retail outlets.

"Columbus Avenue is like a New Jersey mall," Shirazi said. "It's not a neighborhood. We must pass zoning to protect what is left of small independent businesses."

Others spoke about how small businesses often contribute to the neighborhood, by sponsoring Little League teams, participating in Safe Haven programs for kids, or just having the flexibility to be available for special circumstances. Others warned that this proposal would do nothing to actually protect the beloved small shops.

"Contextual zoning doesn't lower rents, it doesn't prevent someone from being kicked out of their space, it doesn't protect anyone from the higher costs," said resident Alexander Medwedew. "There's too much competition for the same amount of space." He advocated opening up other areas for small business instead of changing the currently zoned areas.

Ultimately the board approved the proposal, after considering and rejecting an amendment to carve out individual landmarks. They did, however, adopt an amendment asking for City Planning to adhere to a 90-day time limit in approving variances to the zoning for existing small businesses. The proposal will now move to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office for the next phase of approvals, and the City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on April 11 to hear community concerns.

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